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30/10/19

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation

Arabic translation of construction documents

Ahmed Haridy, Senior Consultant Driver Trett Kuwait sheds some light on the common shortfalls in translated documents submitted to courts.

In November 2018 the Abu Dhabi government introduced new rules to its legislative system, with the intention to make Abu Dhabi an attractive destination for foreign investors. These rules provide a breakthrough to the translation quandary as they request plaintiffs in civil and commercial cases involving non-Arabic speaking defendants to translate all case files into English.

This is a unique and first step in the Middle East where Arabic is the official language. In all other countries or jurisdictions in the region all court proceedings are conducted in Arabic, and any document submitted to the court must be in Arabic, which often presents significant challenges to international companies operating in the region who are subject to litigation proceedings.

As a high number of construction contracts in the region involving international contractors, consultants, engineers etc. are administered in the English language, an issue arises when there is a dispute that the parties want to refer to the courts. All documents in English produced throughout the entire project period related to the dispute may need to be translated into the Arabic language, so they can be used in the court proceedings.

This mandatory requirement requires having each page of the case files translated, which could be a lengthy and expensive process if the case is hundreds of pages. The translation time and costs are not the only issues for the parties to manage. It is a requirement to clearly translate their respective positions in a foreign language which will allow them to effectively and accurately present their strongest case to the courts. In our experience, the parties typically carry out the translation of the case files and documents primarily through translation agencies in the region.

We typically work on cases presented to litigation, the majority of which were interpreted by translation agencies, and we frequently observe numerous flaws in those translated documents, mainly related to their structure and wording. This ultimately results in an inconsistent and incomprehensible document in which the parties’ original intentions are lost in translation.

Many translating agencies rely on machine translation which has its pros and cons. Machine translation is free through readily available tools (Google Translate, Skype Translator, etc.), and it has a quick turnaround time. However, it has a very low level of accuracy and cannot translate context when it comes to technical, contractual, and legal documents. The level of accuracy required in this context calls for human linguistic experts with a high technical understanding of the proceedings.

A common flaw with machine translation is its limited capacity to differentiate between the forms of English language words, or to provide accurate technical terminology matching its original intent. For example, a common term in many construction contracts such as “provisional”, when translated into Arabic language using websites with machine translation services, produces a translation with the meaning of “temporary”.

Another more amusing example we continually come across is the translation of the contractual term “back to back contract”, which when translated into the Arabic language using machine translation, produces a translation with the meaning of “the contract that moves backwards”. 

Finding the right linguistic and industry related expertise is a major challenge. Translators employed by translation agencies in the Arab region are not usually fully conversant with the construction or claims industry, hence providing a very poor and misrepresented translation.

Inexperienced translators will often fall into literal translation traps, by carrying out a word to word translation. Sometimes a sentence will have a direct translation in another language but the meaning will actually be different. This can happen with specific words and phrases where the literal translation means something else.

In a recent case, Driver Trett were appointed by an international contractor to perform the translation of court documents within a very short period of time, using our Arabic speaking consultants. Not only did we meet the fixed timeframe for the submission to the court, but we also managed to incorporate a high number of last-minute changes requested by the client, in an accurate and fluid manner.

Construction is one of the most difficult industries for translators to work in and it really does require the highest level of language professionals. Furthermore, when dealing with high value and complex claims, you also need a translator with the requisite level of technical related expertise, familiar with the contractual, quantum, and delay terminology used within the industry.

For an international contractor, developer, or consultant to ensure the best outcome in any court proceedings held across the region, before engaging a translator, it is vital to look for the following skills:

  • Fluency in both the required languages
  • Full acquaintance with the terminology used in the construction industry
  • Capacity to convey the original meaning of the translated text as closely as possible
  • Complete awareness of the specific contractual writing style in both languages
  • Understanding of the intended use and purpose of the translated document

Planning your translation ahead, rather than thinking of translation at the last stage, can save a considerable amount of time and money. This is especially productive when producing the original English documents in a way that keeps the intended meaning clear and making them easier to translate. This could be achieved by standardising the English language used and avoiding the use of unnecessarily sophisticated terminology that could cause complications with the translation at a later date.

Notwithstanding the above, clients tend to add more uncertainty and pressure to the translation process by frequently revising the content of their original statements, or moving the delivery deadlines forward. The undesirable impact of this can be minimised by working on translation as early as possible; this will help in producing documents that are primed for translation, and build a glossary of industry related terms. This will result in speeding up the process and reducing the costs of later changes.

In any kind of translation, especially in construction disputes, the most important thing to consider is the cost, or damage, caused by potential mistakes. Translating contractual, legal and many other kinds of content requires 100% accuracy to ensure the true positions of the parties to a dispute are clearly understood and interpreted correctly.

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Articles  /  Asia Pacific  /  Europe  /  Global  /  Middle East

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